The Nomi Song

The Nomi Song, a film about the avant garde performer Klaus Nomi, is currently playing on cable TV’s On Demand.  Although the documentary was made in 2004, I’m giving it a little review here, since it’s likely that far more people will see it on cable than they ever could in the movie theaters.  I certainly didn’t have an opportunity when I lived in Normal, Illinois. To be honest, I’d missed the whole Klaus Nomi thing, even while it was happening.  Certainly I’d run across pieces about him in the music press–he has that kind of weird underground following that lets true popular music aficionados feel all warm and superior inside.   He’s a late 70’s/mid 80’s new wave performer who was on the edge of a type of music called to mind by David Bowie as alien-Kraftwerk-Devo-and a bit of the New York Dolls–heavily costumed, theatrical, and deeply indebted to Berlin cabaret.  Some would say that those who got over (Bowie et al.)  got it from Nomi.  Hard to say.  The effect of Nomi on Bowie was direct enough that he had Nomi back him on a Saturday Night Live performance in 1979. (Nomi and Bowie, The Man Who the World)  And who was this odd little German?: Nomi was an operatic falsetto.  He was serious.  He was trained, but mostly he was obsessed with opera.  While he briefly performed in a professional company, he left it (whether because he couldn’t make money with classical singing or because he was bored or both, we’ll never know).  After moving to New York, he scrounged around cleaning offices and the like until his need for a following led him to create Nomteenklaus2.jpgi.  images-10.jpegUsing the Nomi persona, he found an audience while performing in experimental cabaret in New York City.  The documentary The Nomi Song has much moving footage; one of my favorite clips is one of the first in the film, an ethereal, truly heart stopping song.  It comes early and then it’s lost.  (I’d love to show you a clip from that, but I couldn’t find it–instead, here’s Nomi singing that great old song Lightning Strikes.  And here’s another: And here’s another of Nomi singing Puccini shortly before his death: After gaining a small arty following, Klaus Nomi split from his band and the New York theatrical scene to, well, try to become famous.  It’s at this point that his work begins to lose some of its strange beauty and turns into something closer to the cross-dressing costumed spacey send-ups of Devo.  And just as it seems he might “make it” he becomes one of the earliest casualties of AIDS.The film does a nice job of making his sexuality and death NOT the point.  While certainly Klaus Nomi does have a gay following (the Internet Movie Database tags the movie as “gay theme” and “AIDS”), director Andrew Horn keeps the focus straight on the performances.  I would’ve liked to have seen a bit more about Klaus himself, though, as a person: we find that he was “lonely” and we see that his aunt adored him and that he was a “sweet guy,” yet I never truly understood what was driving him, what he thought and dreamt about.  My suspicion is that the Nomi alien persona was adopted mainly as a means of getting over, and that his passion was truly opera itself–but really, I’m not sure.  They discuss the costumes, but I never really understood if the man was trying to actually say something in the performance itself, beyond the music (as in: we are all aliens?  he is an alien and we are not?  there is beauty in the strange?–it’s never discussed).  More interviews with Klaus himself would have been welcomed–I got a little bit tired of seeing the same old bitter bandmates trotted out time and again.  Even some fans, some lovers, some friends, some family–anybody–.  While the point may have been that Nomi had no one, I still would’ve liked to have known a little more about this man, and a little less about how so-and-so got shoved out of the band.That said, how lovely that this footage is out there, getting attention, getting scattered about on youtube.  I particularly liked the clips from the New York days–the cabaret, the humor, and the peculiar sincerity of that particular time and place.  (The clips from New York cable TV reminded me of that year I spent there in grad school–I’ve seen nothing like those shows again.)   The people in this clips are so excited about being young outsiders, and so in love with themselves and with their songs.  I found the film to be quite sweet. 

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One response to “The Nomi Song

  1. You can read my story about Klaus Nomi here…

    http://www.geocities.com/kahniverous/klausnomi.html

    All the best,

    Madeline

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